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Is It Illegal to Smack Your Child in the UK?

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The UK law on smacking your child has long been controversial. While children should never be subject to physical abuse, the legalities of smacking are often deemed to be very subjective when cases are taken to court.

Laws vary, too, between England, Scotland and Wales. But generally speaking, child abuse laws are being tightened up across the United Kingdom.

In this article, the childcare and social services team at Wilson Browne explains in more detail how the child discipline laws in the UK work in relation to smacking a child.

Is There a Law Against Smacking Your Child in the UK?

Child discipline laws in the UK are in place to help protect children from abuse, but there are still many grey areas in relation to smacking.

In Scotland and Wales, there will be no tolerance for physical abuse of children. Laws are in place that stop you from smacking a child, regardless of what they have done or how old they are.

It’s therefore illegal for any adult – whether they are a parent, guardian, grandparent, carer or teacher – to physically slap or smack a child in Scotland or Wales.

In this regard, children are treated similarly to adults, in respect of the fact that physical abuse therefore counts as an assault, which is illegal and for which a person can be prosecuted.

In England however the law isn’t quite so clear-cut. A law does exist, which ensures that it is illegal to smack a child in England, and it’s illegal for parents, carers and teachers to deliberately smack a child. However, the law becomes subjective because parents in England are still legally allowed to smack their own child if it can be considered a ‘reasonable punishment’.

What Is a Reasonable Punishment?

This is where the UK law on smacking your child, or more specifically English law, can become convoluted. What counts as a reasonable punishment?

It should be noted that it is illegal for anyone other than a parent to smack a child, whether they believe this to be a reasonable punishment or not. If a babysitter or carer has been given express permission to do so directly from a parent, then this is also permissible. Otherwise, any instance of smacking – by a teacher or carer, for example – would be illegal.

When determining if a smack is reasonable punishment, the law would need to take into account several factors. These include:

  • The force of the smack
  • The location of the smack
  • The child’s age

The law in England doesn’t necessarily take into account what the smack was given for, and the criteria amounting to ‘reasonable’ can be interpreted differently. For this reason, it can be difficult for solicitors to take cases of smacking for prosecution in court, unless there is evidence of injury.

While the law allows for smacking as a reasonable punishment, the smack itself cannot cause injury to the child. If the child is left with bruises, cuts or abrasions, then the parent can be deemed to have committed assault. Given the high chance of more serious injury, the archaic nature of smacking as a punishment and the trauma that your child could face, physically or mentally, there is little justification for smacking in the 21st century.

Is Slapping a Child in the Face against the Law?

The law on smacking your child in the UK also applies to all other forms of physical abuse. This means that it’s also illegal to slap a child in the face.

In Scotland and Wales, slapping a child in the face would be deemed to be an assault. This could see the adult prosecuted in court, as it’s a dangerous punishment that could easily lead to injury.

In England, it’s very likely that slapping a child in the face would also lead to prosecution. Even if the parent felt this was, for some reason, a reasonable punishment to administer, it’s very likely that the child would be left with visible bruising or worse, and that a court would find the parent to have been irresponsible in their actions.

Physical abuse of a child should never be tolerated, and in all parts of the United Kingdom, the law prohibits many other forms of physical punishment. As well as smacking and slapping, the following are also deemed illegal:

  • Hitting a child with an object
  • Kicking a child
  • Throwing a child
  • Scratching a child
  • Pulling a child’s hair
  • Deliberately burning a child

The list goes on. If the punishment could result in injury or harm to a child, there’s little justification for carrying out that punishment.

The UK laws on smacking are regularly reviewed and, as in the case of Welsh law, they are being updated to further protect children from physical abuse. In Wales and Scotland, children are given the same protections as adults in regards to assault, because after all, why should a child be subject to physical harm?

While some parents may see a light smack as a reasonable punishment, it’s also very true that smacking and physical abuse in general are seen by the general public as old fashioned and dangerous punishments.

Under English law, smacking is still controversial and can be deemed legal in certain circumstances, but this legal protection doesn’t remove the need for moral accountability on the part of a parent. As public opinion continues to change, English law may also follow suit with Scottish and Welsh law to protect children further.

Contact Wilson Browne Today for More Information on Child Discipline Laws in the UK

UK laws exist to protect children, and Wilson Browne’s team of expert solicitors are ready to help you understand the often-complex legal issues surrounding child discipline.

With decades of legal experience, Wilson Browne’s legal team can provide the advice you need in regard to child discipline laws in the UK.

Contact our friendly team of lawyers today to find out more.